My time at St. Luke’s was a bit unusual from the typical seminarian experience. I had the unique joy of serving St. Luke’s as the Administrative Assistant instead of coming to St. Luke’s to fulfill my field education requirements.
During my first semester at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Pastor Erik came to present about Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. I was so convicted by his presentation that the following Sunday I began following St. Luke’s on social media and learned that the longstanding administrator, Joyce, would be retiring. Having previously served Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio as the Director of Church Operations and needing some income to help with seminary tuition, I applied. Right from that first meeting with Pastor Erik and Jessica Schmipff, I knew St. Luke’s was a special place and that taking this position would be a lifechanging experience.
There was a lot of transition in the 17 months I served on staff for St. Luke’s. We built up a lot of institutional structures during that time. Bulletin making moved off the pastor’s desk and onto mine. We went from a paper database to an electronic database. Policies and procedures were created. I worked extensively with then treasurer Noel Spain to help us become in compliance with ELCA best practices of financial record keeping. The position quickly grew, and I became the point person for all space use agreements. We started to notice the extent of the damage to the building on Francisco Avenue. We were just beginning the professional assessment that would lead to the sale of the building when I resigned in order to complete my internship required for ordination.
My time at St. Luke’s was a blessing to me that I don’t think I could ever adequately put into words. I, like my classmates, had field education that I fulfilled with other congregations. While those experiences were important, they do not compare to the knowledge I gained by serving St. Luke’s. I had the great privilege of putting what I learned in the classroom into context every day I went to work. As staff, I formed friendships with St. Luke’s members I still treasure this day.
Working day in and day out with Pastor Erik shaped me into the pastor I am today. He taught me how to have patience (I can be a bit of a curmudgeon at times!). He taught me how to love people I don’t always agree with. He taught me the importance of pastors making connections in the surrounding community on behalf of their congregation. He was a friend to me when I went through health challenges. Seminary is a challenging and provocative time in a leader’s life, and Pastor Erik was always the first person to remind me that no matter what office I hold, my true and primary identity is a beloved child of God.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the greatest gift St. Luke’s gave me was the courage to take a chance on the unexpected. It seemed like every week we took a chance to move St. Luke’s forward and to discern where God was leading us. Sometimes those chances brought tears and frustration. Most often they brought joy.
I needed to learn how to take a chance, because without that learning I would not be where I am now. Despite anything I could have expected, I now serve a rural congregation in the dairy heartland. St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in New Pittsburg, Ohio, is in a community of 420 people. 216 of those people are members of my church, and 2/3 of them are the descendants of one couple. If you would have told me when I was working for St. Luke’s that one day I would be the pastor for an agricultural community, I would have laughed. I never could have imagined this urban-girl would end up living in a parsonage in Amish Country 23 minutes away from the nearest gas station.
But I am so glad I took that chance. Pastor Erik once told me it didn’t matter where we went, God would always be there making God’s self known in the people we serve. I realize the truth of these words every day.
I am sole pastor to a lovely 183-year-old congregation that serves as the progressive voice in a very conservative community. Caring for creation is the heart of our community. Every family in my congregation is connected to farming, whether that is being a farmer, married to farmer, or selling agricultural supplies. My folks take the responsibility of caring for their animals so seriously that many have Masters Degrees in environmental and veterinary sciences. You can learn more of two of our millennial farming families in this video.
Educational justice is an important part of our ministry. Panda Preschool has been a mission of our congregation for 41 years. We ensure that every child who wants an education receives one, even if they cannot afford tuition. As a privately funded preschool with no state funding, it is our members who cover the cost of education for those in need.
I firmly believe I never would have been open to the Spirit’s call for me to come to St. Peter if I had not learned how to embrace the unexpected from my time with Pastor Erik and the good people of St. Luke’s. I will forever treasure you and your ministry. You are never far from my thoughts and always in my prayers.
Your friend in Christ,
The Rev. Tina Heise